It was George Washington who reminded his fellow Americans that, "The most certain way to make a man your enemy is to tell him you esteem him such."
Republican commentators like Newt Gingrich have been esteeming Muslims such for years now.
Gingrich hit a new low Monday morning when talking about the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero with a wildly-irresponsible comparison of Muslims to Adolf Hitler's minions. "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington," he told' Fox and Friends.
Gingrich and friends want to rally Americans to wake up to the Islamic terrorists in their midst. They carry on in an almost blasé manner as they stoke the fires of hate and paranoia. Bin Laden has them to thank for helping him to fulfill this summer's recruiting quota.
As groups of Americans and their political leaders rally to try to stop a mosque and community center near to Ground Zero, they should be careful to distinguish between the real enemy who attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda, and the broader Islamic world, some 1.2 billion Muslims.
Most Muslims are moderate and peaceful in their approach to the world, but they also offer bin Laden and his ilk a massive and fast-growing pool of possible recruits. When Americans vilify Muslims en masse by considering them as enemies or potential enemies, al Qaeda's recruiting efforts are made easy. Their leaders can point the finger at the broader American public as their spiteful foe.
In doing so, we don't "isolate" al Qaeda, as Bush's (partly-reformed) former speech writer Michael Gerson correctly insisted in an interview on MSNBC Monday. Rather, we "elevate" them.
Some of the best analysis of opinions in the vast Islamic realm is cobbled together at the University of Maryland's "WorldOpinion.org," whose senior researchers intently examine the motivations of anti-Americanism and terrorism.
Many Muslims, according to the school's Dr. Steven Kull, came away with the impression in the years after 9/11 "that the war on terrorism" had really become "a war on Islam." Another expert, former CIA analyst terrorism expert, Dr. Marc Sageman, adds that one of the tell-tale signs of any budding terrorist - particularly young men who are likely to fall into the hands of recruits -- is a "a sense of moral outrage" -- particularly anger towards the U.S. as a reaction to a perceived "war on Islam." (Sorry Islamophobes: Sageman, like Gerson, is no "liberal" weenie.)
Indeed, America's irrational actions abroad often helped to fuel that narrative.
Most advantageous of all for the wily bin Laden was the U.S. invasion of a country that turned out - despite Dick Cheney's adamant insistence to the contrary - to have no al Qaeda fighters on the ground when we invaded. Voila: Fresh cannon fodder for our foe. Global terrorism rose by 600 percent in the early years after that muddled invasion.
Media images -- which included the wanton and unfortunate slaughter tens of thousands Muslim civilians by combatants on all sides combined with U.S. military photos of outright torture -- further stoked this erroneous impression that the U.S. was "at war with Islam."
In the words of the classic German military strategist, Carl Von Clausewitz, "war is as an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." Clausewitz also knew, however, that the objective in any war also had to be the disarming of one's foe.
That is where knowing how to isolate the enemy comes in, for, despite the brazen miscalculations of war strategy in the early years after 9/11, America today still has the upper hand against a clever but nihilistic foe.
A funny thing has happened on the way to the opera: Al Qaeda has been having a hard time convincing most Muslims that suicide bombings are a useful tactic to accomplish anything at all. One reason: they are victimized more than Americans were at 9/11 by their own religious fanatics. Indeed, Islamic extremists kill more Muslims than they do members of any other religious group.
So as Americans scream "for" or "against" the Islamic Center, which is clearly their right, they also should take a few deep breaths. This war requires nuance -- the kind that Gingrich and his kind are incapable of mustering. America's war on terror (yes: we should still call it that) and our ultimate effort to disarm our foe requires two parts diplomacy and development, two parts intelligence-gathering and only one part force.
Words and ideas carry with them the gravity of defeat or victory. If Americans blindly insist that all Muslims are out to get them - as some of our most fanatical pundits would have us do - they only feed a narrative that bin Laden relies upon to keep his diabolical operations afloat. Some of the leading opponents of the Ground Zero mosque -- as is demonstrated by Gingrich's "Nazi" quote -- are trying to rally Americans to paint all Muslims in this manner.
How foolish is that? Bin Laden and his ilk welcome this kind of broad-brush animosity. They are a clever enemy and they know all too well what specific lies sell best across the Islamic world.
Indeed, they play this game better than most guerrilla movements in modern history while remaining well-hidden in the broader population, (even here in the USA,) and carrying on their work in what is known in military parlance as "a force multiplier."
Let's not give them any direct assistance by trying to knock down the idea of a single mosque a full two blocks away from Ground Zero. This is not a matter of turning the other cheek. It is a far graver issue of refusing to fuel bin Laden's propaganda machine.